Ecumenism cuts both ways

Ecumenism cuts both ways

The Dean of St Patrick’s Anglican Cathedral, Rev. Robert MacCarthy has criticised the Catholic Church for its ”lack of ecumenism” in his final sermon before retiring.

Oh, yes, see how these Christians love one another! Lack of ecumenism is often something of a hazard. Consider the Armenian and Greek priests who came to blows over a disputed church area in the Holy Land over Christmas.

But we are more dainty about these matters in Ireland, even if Dean MacCarthy spoke more candidly than most. Then, before a man takes retirement, he feels a certain freedom of speech.

Dean MacCarthy’s complaint was that while he was always happy to welcome the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin to preach at St Patrick’s, ”no reciprocal invitation” was forthcoming from the Pro-Cathedral.

Dear me. Life is tough on poor old deans of St Patrick’s. The sufferings of Job are as nothing to their sense of rejection at not being invited to preach at the Pro-Cathedral.

Maybe the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin has been remiss. Maybe he has other matters on his mind.

Maybe — no, certainly — he doesn’t have a wife to whom he can delegate his diary appointments and various other matters which he may have forgotten: wives do all these little chores so usefully.

Maybe he is consulting the protocols for such a return visit of preaching. Knowing Dr Martin slightly, I doubt it is down to a lack of ecumenism.

He is an open-minded and compassionate man who is very unlikely to harbour sectarian views.

Dean MacCarthy thinks the current ”demoralised” state of the Catholic Church in Ireland is because it lacks ”ecumenism”.

Logically and historically, that doesn’t quite add up, since the Catholic Church was at its most confident when it was least ecumenical and preaching that Protestants were ‘in error’.

This was at around the same time — the 1950s and 60s — that Protestant firms would not hire Catholics in management and The Irish Times still ran job adverts specifying ”Protestants only need apply”.

Ecumenism cuts both ways: as does sectarianism. If we want to heal the divisions that stain Christianity we should surely move forward in kindness and understanding, not criticism and carping.


Lucky number four

I have no great objection to celebrating Chinese New Year on January 23. But I do sometimes wonder what is behind this focus on a Chinese New Year, which seems to be an increasingly important focus in our media.

Is it that urge, which George Orwell so well identified in the 1940s, of home-grown intellectuals wishing to celebrate every culture but their own? Or is it a new source of merchandising — selling more stuff?

Let us be tolerant, but let us keep things in proportion too.

Chinese culture may be respected for its antiquity: and Confucianism remains a deposit of wisdom. But Chinese culture is also woefully superstitious, and superstitions are inimical to free will.

I have personal experience of these Chinese superstitions. In China, the number four is considered very unlucky. It so happens that my date of birth is extremely ominous, in Chinese terms: 4-4-44.

When I arrived in China in the 1990s, I found it hard to get a hotel room because officials grew waxen with terror when they opened my passport and saw this terrible source of ill-luck staring at them: four, four, forty-four! I was a pariah!

I am not inclined to superstitions, for the most part, but I am glad to say, all the same, that in Western numerology, four is considered a propitious number, signalling ‘completeness’.

The psychologist Carl Jung greatly approved of the number four: four corners of the Earth, four parts of a square, and four Gospels too. So, no Year of the Dragon for me, but hooray for four!


The repentant sinner

The American Republican contender, Mr Newton Gingrich, is something of a rum cove. He has been described as a ”serial philanderer”, and his second wife, Marianne, accused him of pressing her for an ”open marriage” (one which allows liaisons with other partners) during their time together.

Indeed, when Gingrich was being particularly tough on Bill Clinton for his dallying with Monica Lewinsky, he was, according to Marianne, ”cheating” on his own wife.

He is now married to his third wife, Callista, aged 45, a very self-controlled person with iron-stiff blonde hair.

Yet, the three marriages and philandering notwithstanding, Gingrich and Callista are now Catholic converts, and last year, the pair of them made and promoted a documentary about John Paul II.

Oh, well, he certainly has livened up the electoral contest in America with his sensational win in South Carolina. And at the age of 68, this repentant sinner shows it is never too late — either to repent or to run for office.